Straddling online and offline profiles, millennials search for identity

Published: Sunday, June 2 2013 4:35 p.m. MDT

Mariah Hanaike reacts to realizing it is free ice cream cone day as she uses Facebook.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-year-old Mariah Hanaike waits in the disconcerting silence of a temporary employment agency lobby in Redwood City, Calif. Though the interview has not yet begun, Hanaike said she knows she is being scrutinized before she shakes the hand of a potential employer.

“You know the person your going to meet is somewhere close in the building preparing for you, maybe by looking you up on Facebook or Googling your name, possibly reading an embarrassing entry about you on your mom's blog or being surprised to not find you on LinkedIn,” said Hanaike.

“I can't just be myself where and when I want because anything I do has the potential to end up on some site somewhere where anyone can look at it and judge. I feel like I need to water down who I am.”

Millenials, the term given for  those born between 1980 and 2000,  may be suffering from an identity crisis as they search for their authentic self. According to a recent online study, 1 out of 4 millennials say they can only be their true self when alone. As today’s twenty-somethings create online identities to market themselves professionally, as well as socially, some fear that the disparity between the two can prevent a young person from finding authentic self-definition.

Living life publicly

As today's younger generation navigates the transition to adulthood, reconciling between online and offline identities can be difficult.  

Nearly 25 percent of all millennials say they can only be their true self when alone, Belgium researcher Joeri Van den Bergh found.

In his book, "Millennials: How Cool Brands Stay Hot, Branding to Generation Y," Van den Bergh argues that authenticity is key for brands to connect with Millennials. 

"The key concept behind authenticity is to stay true to yourself, so we wanted to know when Millennials stay true to themselves," he said. 

Van den Bergh asked 4,056 people, ages 15 to 25, when they felt they were or weren't being authentic online or offline, with friends, parents, partners or employers. Identity, he found, was strongly influenced by the back-and-forth of these two spheres.

"Millennials are pre-wired to achieve and create success stories in their lives," Van den Bergh said. "They would rather blow up some stories or pretend they are having fun on instagram and Facebook than admit they had a boring night out to the friends and immediate social circle."

This can alter authenticity in identity, Van den Bergh found. Only half of the millennials surveyed believe themselves to be authentic and real.

"(It's) a response to the social society in which private moments are rare and everything is transparent and in the open on social media," Van den Bergh said. 

For Victor Ruiz, 25, a student at Utah State University, social media perpetuates the problem.

"We live in a capitalist society," Ruiz said. "People don't want to be singled out, especially in a negative way, so they will try to make themselves look better and good to impress. They would try to make their online pages look as though they are living the American dream and not expose weakness."

It's a "fluffy portrayal of reality," said 27-year-old Angie Rideout, a hairstylist in Salt Lake City. “It shows what we value, how we spend our time and who we spend our time with.”

If you don't participate online, you risk being uninvolved and out of touch, said Hanaike, who is also attending LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. "Nobody will show you to others for you, so you will be voiceless and unseen." 

Hanaike said online media can be detrimental to her offline identity.

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